LARGO, Fla. -- Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Thursday he is taking mug shots off his "Who's In Jail" website because private companies are copying the photos and posting them on their own sites, but agreeing to take them down only if the person in the photograph pays them.
Gualtieri identified the pilfering web sites as mugshots.com, justmugshots.com and arrests.org. He said they have used the site of the sheriff's office to mine and post photos to their own websites and then charge exorbitantly high fees to remove the images.
"After visiting mugshots.com myself, I saw that citizens were being charged anywhere from $399 to $1,700 to remove their booking photos from just that one site," Gualtieri said in a prepared statement. "I decided that it is more than a rip-off. It is extortion.
"A person may have to pay an exorbitant amount of money to go from site to site to remove these booking posts," the sheriff said in the statement. "A lot of these people have committed relatively minor crimes -- or made a bad decision.
"The reposting of their booking photo isn't illegal, but charging a fee to remove it is unconscionable, verging on blackmail and clearly taking advantage of someone's circumstances," Gualtieri said. "So we are doing our part to take away their ammunition."
The mug shots on "Who's In Jail" will no longer be available to the general public as of Monday. However, the sheriff's office will continue to honor individual requests for booking photos, as he is required to do under the state's public records laws.
To accommodate other law enforcement agencies and the media, Gualtieri's staff has designed a special log-in feature on the website that will allow those entities to access mug shots.
The sheriff's office has allowed public access to mug shots on "Who's in Jail" since 2005.
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